From Booklist


In the life of the man whose study of an electric fish culminated in the invention of the voltaic battery, Italian historian Pancaldi limns an insightful chronicle of an individual genius riding global tides of cultural transformation. Though he allows Alessandro Volta his full human complexity--childhood speculations about the spiritual powers of animals, midlife romance with an opera singer--Pancaldi focuses chiefly on the episodes that transformed a precocious amateur into an internationally recognized authority on the strange phenomena of electricity. A key chapter particularly details the serendipitous 1796-99 experiments with torpedo fish that led to Volta's much-acclaimed invention of the battery. But even more illuminating than the explanation of Volta's laboratory research is Pancaldi's analysis of the rapidly changing milieu in which that research took place. For in that milieu, readers see a world just beginning to define the scientist as a lionized new social type, a world tentatively developing capacities for converting scientific breakthroughs into industrial technology. A fascinating mix of science and biography. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved